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Why is software development seen as a bad career in Japan?

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  • Why is software development seen as a bad career in Japan?

    It's frustrating to live in Tokyo as an American developer and accept at face value, that the average eikaiwa employee makes more per working hour than many software developers with carefully learned technical skills, bilingual capability and technical degrees? Is it that Japanese developers aren't as educated or skilled as foreign developers? I've heard this theory floated around even on GP, and I doubt it's true. But it seems there might be some cultural reason that Japanese (and other Asian nations) see software development as a career that is low-prestige and doesn't merit high pay.

    There seems to be one misconception in particular, that one doesn't need soft skills or any non-technical skills to be a successful developer. In my experience it's quite the opposite. Code monkeys can learn techniques, but qualified software developers understand the user's needs, best practices, usability concerns, testing, debugging, requirements gathering and stay up on the latest trends in technology. It seems that unfortunately, many companies here simply do not differentiate between 'code monkey' and a proper developer or software engineer.

  • #2
    I have a theory (also speaking as a Merkin Dev), and it's probably not even worth 2 Yen.... basically cultural. Japanese companies don't 'get it', or at least don't 'get IT'. IT is seen as a cost of doing business. Business costs need to be reduced in order to improve margins. Companies that 'get it' see IT as a smart investment, something that if used judiciously will allow the company to vault over the competition. Another possible reason is globalization, where IT (dev costs, anyway) can be outsourced to cheap cheap Indian companies. Personally, I think outsourcing is a false value (penny saved, pound wasted sort of thing) due to the things you mentioned as well as language impediments.

    When I was at Dell Japan, they would keep the most skeletal of staff to keep IT operations going -- I was the sole dev responsible for making and maintaining the online store which was pulling in $250K/day when I left -- reflecting their attitude of a cost burden, whereas in the US HQ, IT, and particularly skilled devs were seen as equals to finance and marketing in terms of providing the company with a competitive advantage (though that has changed by now). When I learned that in the Bay Area I could make 3x the salary, work half the hours, and go for after-work bike rides in the Marin Headlands, I left faster than you could say wasabi. I suspect that is what other skilled Japanese devs have done, leaving the worthless chaff to wile away the late night hours and curry favor with the bucho.

    I see this problem in J Web design too, now that I have a better design eye. Your average Japanese website looks like a Geocities page from '98, though I'm not saying that good Japanese Web design doesn't exist, it's just extremely rare.

    ATTN mods: Your login system is borked. Maybe you could use some skilled gaijin devs?

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    • #3
      Their login system is borked here at old GMedia, because they are running off Zend framework. PHP pretends to be a real programming language in the same vein that Japanese developers pretend to be awake at 2230 when the glum looking buchou's making the rounds (typically during the waning hours of that delicious saabisu zangyou and ever-efficient and judiciously illegal 65 hour work week). For myself I can rationalize staying here because I'm still young enough, and I hold out blind hope for landing a lucrative job that isn't a 25-35万 crap job at some lame little games company.

      The problem with hiring a load of Indians to do your work is that you end up paying that communication overhead because they don't often understand the instructions they are given due to language barriers, geographic distance and lack of familiarity with your business model (and that's assuming they are of equal technical ability to an average Computer Science-educated western developer, which is dubious at best from what I saw out of Mumbai thus far). Then let's factor in maintenance costs for maintaining a mountain of garbage code that arbitrarily loses sessions due to being poorly written and having the architectural flaws of a non-OOAD language ripe with non-uniform behavior, weak typing, dynamic type inference and implicit type checking. What a nightmare!

      EDIT:

      From what I've seen, many countries outside US and UK pay pretty bad wages for developers by comparison. Though I will say the people I know that went home were mostly Americans. Got turned down from one interview because they said I "thought like an American". When I asked 私の履歴書を読んでじゃったか they gave me a blank stare. I like to think I was the only foreigner that ever had the balls to talk to old buchou in the plain form.
      Last edited by iidesune; 2013-03-27, 04:35 AM. Reason: Hi Mods, prz dont fire me

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      • #4
        I hear ya, I've seen the Indian Spaghetti Incident on both sides of the pond.

        I think Japanese devs are _in general_ not skilled or as educated as Western devs. Given what we know about the J University educational quality, it rings true. Younger J devs are often earnest and eager to learn, though. The few skilled J devs I've worked with have been old salty dogs (holier than thou xnix otaku) who poison the team atmosphere, thus kind of nulling out their contributions.

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        • #5
          Japanese web pages are, pardon the contradiction, positively pre-internet. They are badly structured, the links are clunky, and a veritable visual cacophony of confusion.


          Keep in mind that my own website design experience is limited to making joke Geocities pages back in the late 90s.

          Check out this one as an example:

          www.jpcanada.com


          The premier web portal for Japanese in Canada looks like it was designed as a term project by 3 geeks at a Special School with access to first generation web design tools.

          And retail sites are an absolute horror show.

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          • #6
            As 'imnotawino' mentioned, Japanese management usually does not see the importance of a functioning IT. Usually the board members, even at banks or tech companies are lawyers...

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            • #7
              Originally posted by kurogane View Post
              Japanese web pages are, pardon the contradiction, positively pre-internet. They are badly structured, the links are clunky, and a veritable visual cacophony of confusion.


              Keep in mind that my own website design experience is limited to making joke Geocities pages back in the late 90s.

              Check out this one as an example:

              www.jpcanada.com


              The premier web portal for Japanese in Canada looks like it was designed as a term project by 3 geeks at a Special School with access to first generation web design tools.

              And retail sites are an absolute horror show.

              Hahahaha..

              Funny the English side of the site at least doesn't give me a headache...

              I find Japanese design disgusting. This is why companies like TDR made a killing in the 90s.

              Most of the good design, print, even tv commercials, are outsourced to America and the UK.
              Last edited by timeflies; 2013-03-27, 09:59 AM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by GoodGainjin
                I think I read in another post that some of these indian IT guys get pretty j girls because they got good IT jobs. Which is true? Need to know because my background is in software engineering.
                Never heard about this. I know a bunch of Indian IT guys and they are either single or have Indian wives. My impression is that most of them come from 'good families' and thus their parents apparently put pressure on them to marry within that level/caste.

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                • #9
                  Japanese webdesign is ____e. And the worst thing is, I havent seen ANY improvement from 5 years ago. Its like nobody is teaching them how to make a decent website.

                  Im 100% sure 99% of the Japanese websites have a LOT of holes in the security as well. If only Japan already moved forward and stopped wasting paper for everything this country would already be able to solve a LOT of problems.

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                  • #10
                    And still very reliant on Flash for even the most basic of animations.

                    I mostly blame the schools for this, students aren't taught any current coding skills or practices, instead being trained to be as superfluous in their designs as possible, with little regard to practicality or feasibility. "That stuff is for the coders/IT people." So they avoid coding as much as possible, focusing mainly on static photoshop comps and dreamweaver. The more adventurous few will then learn flash so they can do animation without learning to code.


                    I would say the industry is changing, slowly but surely. The small firms that compete only on price will never want to change because learning a new skill is a cost they're not willing nor able to foot. The big design agencies are more willing to adopt global trends and best practices but that's because they have global exposure and big clients that know and want such things.

                    I think the real problem, as it is elsewhere in the world, is that the 'real' prestige has always been in print and advertising, that's where all the awards and glamour goes. You don't produce a great website, you produce a great 'campaign' where web is just one part of it, albeit a huge, often integral part. Especially in Japan, where 90% of the industry are basically suppliers and vendors for Dentsu.

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                    • #11
                      Another problem is that, designers are thought of as artisans(芸術家) and builders are taught of as craftmens(職人), both highly revered. IT seems to be caught in a weird chasm between those 2.

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                      • #12
                        I was a programmer myself many years ago – both here in Japan and overseas too. My career was in IT and over the years I managed teams of developers and maintenance programmers and have outsourced both new development efforts as well as maintenance. At one time my annual development budget was US36 million and my IT subordinates numbered over 50 – so I know a bit about this topic.

                        Forty+ years ago – when IT was in its infancy all companies needed in-house development programmers, but these days most applications have already been developed many times over and packages abound. Companies still need analysts and in some cases even maintenance programmers – but in most cases even the maintenance can be outsourced to economic advantage.

                        Ten years ago I was paying my software suite managers close to yen 20 million and their maintenance programmers with 10 years experience around 14 million. Outsourcing opportunities have brought those numbers down a bit.

                        I do not know what the future holds for IT staff – but I suspect that programming is a dead-end career choice since someone, somewhere – will be able to do it cheaper. Of course IT skills, including programming – are needed, but ones’ focus of knowledge and contribution needs to be in the company’s core business if you are to survive in IT.

                        I doubt that eikaiwa instructors have ever made what programmers make and certainly do not have the upwardly mobile career path opportunities that IT managers have.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TJrandom View Post
                          I was a programmer myself many years ago – both here in Japan and overseas too. My career was in IT and over the years I managed teams of developers and maintenance programmers and have outsourced both new development efforts as well as maintenance. At one time my annual development budget was US36 million and my IT subordinates numbered over 50 – so I know a bit about this topic.

                          Forty+ years ago – when IT was in its infancy all companies needed in-house development programmers, but these days most applications have already been developed many times over and packages abound. Companies still need analysts and in some cases even maintenance programmers – but in most cases even the maintenance can be outsourced to economic advantage.

                          Ten years ago I was paying my software suite managers close to yen 20 million and their maintenance programmers with 10 years experience around 14 million. Outsourcing opportunities have brought those numbers down a bit.

                          I do not know what the future holds for IT staff – but I suspect that programming is a dead-end career choice since someone, somewhere – will be able to do it cheaper. Of course IT skills, including programming – are needed, but ones’ focus of knowledge and contribution needs to be in the company’s core business if you are to survive in IT.

                          I doubt that eikaiwa instructors have ever made what programmers make and certainly do not have the upwardly mobile career path opportunities that IT managers have.
                          Many software engineers here make less than 200k yen a month and work absurdly long hours. Calculating an hourly rate, the average SE here is paid about what the guy that bags your stuff at family mart is paid. In a sick way working eikaiwa part-time actually pays more than the average Japanese game company pays its junior developers. The problem as a foreign dev here, is that the companies wish to hire experienced devs as junior devs due to lacking Japanese work experience.

                          EDIT:

                          Regarding offshoring and outsourcing, I think there is a hidden cost to it that many a firm here overlook. That cost is a communication overhead. Communicating with guys in India that don't speak native English, don't understand your business model, often lack formal education in SE and frankly lack the "in front of you" accountability.. well, I think outsourcing is actually itself on the decline. The sad reality is that the maintenance costs of badly designed systems far exceed the labour costs of their initial inception. But then again, it seems that hasn't really dawned on J-firms yet...
                          Last edited by iidesune; 2013-03-29, 08:00 AM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by iidesune View Post
                            Many software engineers here make less than 200k yen a month and work absurdly long hours. Calculating an hourly rate, the average SE here is paid about what the guy that bags your stuff at family mart is paid. In a sick way working eikaiwa part-time actually pays more than the average Japanese game company pays its junior developers. The problem as a foreign dev here, is that the companies wish to hire experienced devs as junior devs due to lacking Japanese work experience.
                            Sooo... your average is taking into account the many developers and maintenance programmers who are making well over yen 10 million? I doubt it. There may indeed be many sw engineers earning under 200k a month - and if so they should probably consider a different company or career. I believe that the lowest salary I ever paid a beginning programmer - his first job out of college, was above 4 million.

                            As a foreign developer - you should be trying to get hired by foreign firms. If you are dead set on working for a Japanese firm and do not have the experience they want, then please do expect to be paid less. If you let someone take advantage of you - guess what will happen....

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                            • #15
                              Please don't misunderstand, I'm not attacking your words, just saying there is a huge cultural difference in how companies compensate their engineering staff. There aren't many developers actually making 10mm a year(even those that probably deserve to...) due to the scarcity of engineering positions at many foreign-owned IT companies. Foreign owned firms ARE willing to pay big bucks for developers as you mentioned, in accordance with skillset and general working efficiency. What I've seen regarding Japanese firms leaves little cause for celebration for recent IT graduates of J-universities...

                              http://www.toshiba.co.jp/saiyou/inte...l/benefits.htm
                              http://nensyu-labo.com/syokugyou_programer.htm

                              One of the younger guys I play baseball with, a top graduate of Waseda and easily one of the most intelligent Japanese I've ever known, works at Nintendo and they're paying him under 230k yen to work in excess of 250 hours a month. His future is bright, because he's from a good family, but he is making bad wages due to his age. My goal is of course to work for a foreign owned firm, in fact the best job I've had in Japan was working a haken contract at an British-owned firm.

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